Awareness as a prerequisite to coastal and marine conservation efforts

Photo Credits: Aikaterini Tsakanika

By: Aikaterini Tsakanika


The side-event Cine-Debate Urban Bay, organized by the Urban Sea Institute (Instituto Urban Sea, in Portugues) and the UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) was hosted on the third day of the VIII Brazilian Seminar on Protected Areas and Social Inclusion and III  Latin American Meeting on Protected Areas and Social Inclusion (VIII SAPIS- Seminario brasileiro sobre áreas protegidas e inclusão social / III ELAPIS -encontro latino americano sobre áreas protegidas e inclusão social, in Portuguese) that took place between 18-22 October 2017.

After the full exhibition of the documentary Urban Bay, Ariel Kozlowski, executive producer of the documentary Urban Bay and co-founder of the Urban Sea Institute, moderated a roundtable discussion during which invited guests, Natalie Freret-Meurer and Carlos Eduardo Frickmann Young, and participants of the VIII SAPIS/III ELAPIS elaborated on the importance of innovative environmental education through art and first-hand experiences for the conservation of local coastal ecosystems such as the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro.

Marine conservation needs to go beyond a simple dissemination of information

Natalie Freret-Meurer, professor in the field of Populational and Behavioral Ecology and coordinator of the USU Animal Behavior and Conservation Laboratory and the Sea-horses Project in Rio de Janeiro, focused on the importance of adapting the environmental education to the modern challenge of desensitization as a counter-effect of the excessive exposure to a high volume of information that provides the e-era. She defended that informing students and locals on the biology and ecology of marine species is no longer enough either to trigger curiosity or to encourage conservation actions for those species and their natural environment.

“People end up knowing a lot for a lot of issues, but this information has a limited impact on them. For instance, everyone knows or has a minimum notion of Guanabara Bay’s levels of pollution, yet who is effectively generating change? Few actions take place”.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Natalie Freret-Meurer


Genuine curiosity, direct experience and art as means to save our oceans

On the contrary, Natalie Freret-Meurer stood out the immediate impact of fascinating species, such as the extraordinary and beautiful seahorses still living in Guanabara Bay, and the curiosity for its biological functions, could become the means to protect the environment through awareness. As Carlos Eduardo Frickmann Young later added, the seahorses have also another interesting behavioral element that could inspire the empowerment of women: the male individuals are the one to give birth to their offsprings.

The potential multiplicator effect of the attractive species became central for the strategy of the Sea-horses Project in Rio de Janeiro that actively involve students by giving presentations from school to schools, and organizing visitation to conservation areas. In the latter case, students are given the opportunity to dive as young researchers along with scientists in order to understand the marine ecosystem and the nature of the seahorses in Guanabara Bay. In parallel, this direct experience is a form to stimulate the necessary bond with their local marine ecosystems as a precondition to conservation efforts.

Art is another catalytical means with potential to raise awareness, as shows the case of the documentary Baia Urbana. It presents before a broader audience, especially children, some important images and scientific information on Guanabara Bay with a narrative enriched by different experiences and perspectives.


 Leisure: both an exercise of human rights and a form of cultural embrace of local marine ecosystems

Carlos Eduardo Frickmann Young, associate professor of IE/UFRJ and Researcher INCT/PPED) in the area of natural resources, biodiversity and ecological economics, point out the antagonistic interests in reference to the Guanabara Bay which are clearly demonstrated in the documentary Urban Bay.

According to the professor, the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems in the name of progress, which become more intense in the context of climate change effects, leads unavoidably to the minimization of the instances for the local societies and communities especially at highly populated urban agglomerations to have a direct experience of the territory in their proximity impacting simultaneously their quality of life by depriving them from the possibility of leisure. This is a notion of great economic importance for which though still it is not possible to define a specific price. Marine biodiversity is a non-monetary richness of high importance for the most vulnerable. Today, already many communities have not any more the option to cherish the local coasts of Guanabara Bay. Carlos Young, having spent his childhood fishing, swimming and sailing in the Guanabara Bay witnessed all the gradual transformations of the territory, as for instance the construction of the bridge uniting Rio de Janeiro city with Niteroi, and the changes in the local biodiversity.

Guanabara Bay, a conquered territory, needs to be recovered

Carlos Young claimed that local people need to recuperate their relationship with their own territory, in an act of social inclusion for all citizens and groups, not only the fishers acting and living in the coastlines. In a larger perspective, it goes beyond the shoreline, at the regions from which the water flows down to the sea such as Duque de Caxias and São Gonzalo. Academia needs to shed more lights on the aspect of social inclusion as means to stop treating the Guanabara Bay in an unpredictive manner. Ariel Kozlowski also agreed that still people are unaware of the modifications to which the Guanabara Bay was subject to cause of the great quantity of rivers that flow into this great coastal ‘water depository.

Vitor Mihessen, coordinator of Casa Fluminense that stimulate the mobilization of civil society in the metropolitan territory, recognized also the Guanabara Bay as an emblematic element of the urban landscape of the metropolitan area and congratulated the documentary Urban Bay for succeeding in bringing forward in a plural manner, the complex reality of Guanabara Bay, its impact on society, and the lost opportunities for recovery. In this context, he also raised more questions about the role of academia in supporting civil society to formulate an agenda of public policies with the sector of sanitation remaining the most crucial pending issue despite the investments and the promise to restoration up to 80% of the Guanabara Bay during the Olympic Games. According to Ariel Kozlowski, those promises created false expectations to the local population and discouraged participation to civil action which is primordial for the effective orientation of the public policy agenda to the restoration and conservation of this precious local coastal ecosystem. In this vein, people need to understand that the restoration of the Guanabara Bay will take a long-term process and will only bring gradual results over time.

As Carlos Young pointed out, there are alternative low-cost solutions for developing countries that are still not explored enough in Brazil, as for instance, in the area of public sanitation, the use the fluvial ways system as official canals for sewage; this is already occurring unofficially in low infrastructure areas and poor communities as a result of heavy precipitation. Political will is primordial for the exploration of such solutions as well as reasonable allocation of financial resources of the municipalities and the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Check the Primavera Agenda 2017 of the Urban Bay documentary exhibitions: